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By: AJ_Impy, AJ Richardson
Jun 30 2009 11:41pm
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Welcome, readers, as we take a look at ways of beating your opponent in Kaleidoscope that don't involve reducing his life total to zero. As you can imagine,  there are remarkably few ways to do that, as alternate win conditions tend to be thin on the ground even before factoring in the need to be multicolored. There is no poison in the format, and only two cards have the words 'Win the game' in their text. Aside from them, the other viable alternate win condition is milling, which has quite a few useful enablers in the format.

Mayael's Aria Coalition Victory Nemesis of Reason

That explains the how, but not the why. What possible benefit is there for going for an alternate win instead of just swinging and burning the opposition down to zero? Firstly, it renders your opponent's lifetotal irrelevant. In a format replete with Kiss of the Amesha, Captured Sunlight, Behemoth Sledge, Rhox War Monk, Kitchen Finks, Loxodon Hierarch, Tamanoa, Sphinx of the Steel Wind and similar effects, being able to blank that entire aspect of the game can reduce the potency of your opponent's cards. Secondly, it can be supplementary to winning the game by conventional means. Coalition Victory effectively reads, 'If you fix your mana and have either a range of creatures or one 5-color creature in play, end the game here and now'. Mayael's Aria rewards you for having huge, powerful creatures on the battlefield by acting as a cut-price Ajani Goldmane. Almost eerily so, as it boosts your whole team with +1/+1 counters, gains you life and wins the game with a huge creature. Mill can help to strip threats out of an opposing deck, which you can subsequently exploit with Memory Plunder, Crime/Punishment, Debtors' Knell, Lord of Extinction or even Morbid Bloom.

One-Man Coalition

For this first deck, we're going to go for the 8-mana sorcery that either does nothing or does everything. Ramping up to 8 mana in Kaleidoscope was pretty hard in the days prior to Alara Reborn, and the speed added in that set somewhat counterbalances the greatly improved manafixing and acceleration. For the main accelerant I'm going to avoid the excellent Trace of Abundance and the Borderposts in favor of the new cross between Sylvan Scrying and Untamed Wilds, namely Wargate. The tutor into play X-spell is a truly great asset for the format, coming in cheaper mana-wise than the other 'tutor any land card into play' in extended, namely Reap and Sow. This use of the card is better than playing a 2-mana threat for 5 mana, or 3 for 6 and so on, as it gets you ahead of the game early on. In the late game, once you've reached the 8 mana required for Coalition Victory, it nets you the 5-mana powerhouse of your choice. Speaking of powerhouses, here's the creatures with which we'll be completing the combo:

Child of Alara Maelstrom Archangel Fusion Elemental

Each of these is a solid card in their own right. Fusion Elemental has a power to cost ratio usually seen on green monsters with a drawback such as Primeval Force or Spectral Force: Exceedingly difficult to get rid of by burn. Child of Alara acts as our main board sweeper, a reason why we're not running The Trace or Borderposts as well as getting rid of our opponent's board. One particularily nasty combo here is with Bound/Determined: You sweep the board at instant speed and get 5 cards from your graveyard, including the angry baby itself, back in your hand. Maelstrom Archangel gives us a potential turn 5 win with the Coalition Victory: Playing for free trumps playing for 8. Winnng in this manner is also a handy acid test of your opponent's removal: If they let the angel hit home and trigger, they're unlikely to be able to get it out of play before your Coalition Victory resolves.

The other half of the combo requires a land of every basic land type: We can get this as early as turn three consistently thanks to our landcycler, Igneous Pouncer. I don't presently own the Dissension islands of Breeding Pool and Hallowed Fountain, but by running two of every other Ravnica dual, we can be sure of completing the land requirement in short order. the Pouncer can net any swamp or any mountain, and if need be we can race or trade with it.

Our removal suite, apart from Child of Alara, consists of Terminate and Hit/Run, the cheapest direct and indirect point removal in the format. We can dig up our combo pieces with Supply/Demand and the aforementioned Wargate, with a brace of Bound/Determined giving us the ability to pull combo pieces out of the grave or force through their casting if our opponent tries to counter.

Maelstrom Coalition
Kaleidoscope alternate win condition deck
4 Child of Alara
4 Fusion Elemental
4 Maelstrom Archangel
4 Igneous Pouncer
16 cards

Other Spells
2 Bound/Determined
2 Coalition Victory
4 Terminate
4 Hit/Run
4 Supply/Demand
4 Wargate
20 cards
2 Blood Crypt
2 Godless Shrine
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Sacred Foundry
2 Steam Vents
2 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
2 Watery Grave
4 Exotic Orchard
4 Pillar of the Paruns
24 cards

Child of Alara


The main weakness of the deck is relying on a 5 mana major threat staying in play long enough to cast an 8-mana spell. Child of Alara at least gives us the benefit of killing everything in retaliation, but it can fall prey to Unmake or other means of being exiled. Your creatures are big and nasty enough that plan B is a very viable proposition, even if you are unable to win with the signature sorcery.

Isn't "If you have a creature with 20 power, you win the game" redundant?

We turn our attentions to the second card with 'You win the game' on it, namely Mayael's Aria. It needs a 5-power creature to switch it on, a 10-power creature for a major benefit and a 20-power creature to end the game. It seems amusing that the final deck ended up with exactly zero creatures that meet even the first criterion, at least not to start with. The problem here is twofold. How do we reach the 20 power threshold, and if we're investing in that, how do we keep ourselves alive long enough? The trick here lies in growth, both linear and exponential. A steady stream of +1/+1 counters can push us past the first threshold, and a massive jump from there can win us the game. Firstly, let's take a look at our exponential tricks. With such a limited cardpool, can there really be enough ways to  double up on what you have?

Feral Animist Gilder Bairn Apocalypse Hydra

Finally, a home for the self-Berserking little goblin. A couple of turns of double activating him in response to the Aria and you win. One of the cards that benefits the most from being kick-started with a few counters from our linear options below. Aside from that, we have Apocalypse Hydra. It doubles only once, but a 10/10 for 7 mana is good even with a sacrifice a creature rider, as Doomgape shows. One kamikaze doubling with Gilder Bairn and that'll win you the game as well. However, don't forget the Kavu Titan lesson. Apocalypse Hydra even for 1 or 2 gives you something you can chump and ping with early on, in the same way that Martial Coup is sometimes just a token generator. Once we have some counters to double up on, Gilder Bairn can be excellent, but we need humbler means of starting the chain before going for the win.

Shambling Shell Mayael's Aria Lorescale Coatl

There are our 'slow and steady wins the race' sources of +1/+1 counters. Between the Bairn, the Shell and the Coatl, it won't take too long to switch the Aria on and start making your whole team Thrive. The shell is one of those cards that will decrease in value after the M10 rules change, when '3 damage on the stack and sac' becomes 'chump and sac' or 'trade', but the dredge recursion keeps it relevant and useful either way. Lorescale Coatl makes Chlorophant look bad, a steady stream of counters and great synergy with Gilder Bairn. Both creatures have solid power to cost as well, keeping beatdown an option, but given the lack of evasion, the deck is less likely to do that than the one above.

Onto the second half of the problem, staying alive long enough to grow a 20-power monster. For sweepers, we opt for the potent Void and the impassable Teferi's Moat, backed up by Bant Charm for its ability to deal with indestructibles, persistent threats, graveyard triggers and any troublesome artifacts. It also provides a measure of insurance for those who save their enchantment removal for when you're about to win. Aside from 'destroy anything' cards like Maelstrom Pulse, Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and Pure/Simple, or creature-based removal such as Qasali Pridemage, Angel of Despair and Trygon Predator, all other enchant kill is instant speed and thus counterable. It's surprising how effective 'Get a moat down and grow your win condition' can be. A brief note on the absence of Pillar of the Paruns: In this deck, the activated abilities are both fairly pricey and absolutely vital to the win, making this one of the few 5-color Kaleidoscope decks that is actually better off without them.

Aria 51
Kaleidoscope alternate win condition deck
4 Gilder Bairn
4 Shambling Shell
4 Lorescale Coatl
4 Feral Animist
4 Apocalypse Hydra
20 cards

Other Spells
4 Bant Charm
4 Mayael's Aria
4 Void
4 Teferi's Moat
16 cards
4 Exotic Orchard
4 Godless Shrine
4 Jungle Shrine
4 Savage Lands
4 Seaside Citadel
4 Steam Vents
24 cards

Bant Charm

This can be a challenging deck to win with, and it dreads 'Void for 3' which only misses our own Void, Moat and Hydra. Your creatures, Apocalypse Hydra aside, start out as fairly fragile. The best strategy is often to sit behind the moat and try to combo off, shooting down anything that tries to fly over. Don't be afraid to send your Bairns off to die in order to get one more doubling out of them if it will win you the game next turn.

It's Miller Time

Finally we move onto a deck built not around a card but a concept, namely comprehensive rule number 102.3c. Emptying our opponent's library to win has been a staple since Millstone saw print, and its viability as an option in Kaleidoscope was boosted in Alra Reborn with a couple of very handy cards, Nemesis of Reason and Mind Funeral. Kaleidoscope also recieved its first Lobotomy effect with Thought Hemorrhage. Prior to those, the format relied on Glimpse the Unthinkable, or on trying to get up to Szadek, Lord of Secrets and hoping for the best. For this deck, I'll be using the legendary vampire's brain-cutting minion, Circu, Dimir Lobotomist.

Circu, Dimir Lobotomist Mind Funeral Nemesis of Reason

This deck is built to maximise the advantage we can glean from Circu, with Thought hemorrhage and Terminate the only cards not to double-trigger him. The mainstay of the deck is Nemesis of Reason, Glimpsing our opponent every time it attacks, in the process revealing cards to name with the hemorrhage. Our cascade cards help by interfering with our opponent's cards: Hitting the jackpot of Kathari Remnant into Mind Funeral or Glimpse the Unthinkable with a Circu in play will remove a pretty impressive chunk of cards.

Our removal here is Terminate and Agony Warp, backed up by discard from Sedraxis Specter. Circu and Thought Hemorrhage also act as counter-countermeasures: Removing Wheel of Sun and Moon or Progenitus from the game prevents them from claiming mill immunity, allowing us to go ahead with our main path to victory. In general it will take you any five of swinging with Nemesis of Reason or casting Glimpse the Unthinkable and Mind Funeral to end the game. (This depends on your opponent playing a 60-card deck: Fortunately this one proved capable of milling a hundred-card deck in testing.) I've noticed opponents tend to gang-block the Nemesis of Reason: This is where Agony Warp really proves its worth. Kathari Remnant is a vital blocker to hold back the hordes indefinitely, and will hit removal or mill with equal frequency and Sedraxis Specter with half that.

No, we can't be reasonable about this
Kaleidoscope mill deck
4 Sedraxis Specter
4 Circu, Dimir Lobotomist
4 Kathari Remnant
4 Nemesis of Reason
16 cards

Other Spells
4 Agony Warp
4 Terminate
4 Mind Funeral
4 Thought Hemorrhage
4 Glimpse the Unthinkable
20 cards
4 Exotic Orchard
4 Blood Crypt
4 Crumbling Necropolis
4 Pillar of the Paruns
4 Watery Grave
4 Steam Vents
24 cards

Thought Hemorrhage


The deck is weaker against aggro: if the opponent can overwhelm your 3/7s, regenerators and removal, you'll have a hard time finishing him or her off. Cards which recur if milled such as Progenitus need to be Hemorrhaged if you are to stand a chance, unless you're secure enough to hold off your opponent while waiting for him or her to draw them off an otherwise empty deck. Likewise, Wheel of Sun and Moon is a must-exile card. Essentially, you're trying to burn him or her out from 53 rather than from 20, but your 'burn' is approximately three times as effective as his or her equivalents.

So there you have it: At this present time, that's every possible way to win without reducing your opponent to 0 life in Kaleidoscope. It's a very challenging way to play, but then again that's the whole point of the alternate win cards and strategies. It's as much a challenge to yourself as a deckbuilder and pilot as it is to the opposition, but when it works and your opponent is on the losing side of having substantially more life than you, it feels worth the effort. Until next week, may you surprise the other guy with an unexpected victory.


Nice article, really enjoyed by andrefm (not verified) at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 04:02
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Nice article, really enjoyed it. But dude, you need to change your profile photo. The one you have now makes you look like a pervert/psycho/serial killer. Keep up the good writing, I'm thinking of trying kaleidoscope because of reading your stuff.

Funnily enough, I really do by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 05:28
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Funnily enough, I really do look like that in real life. :) Believe me, it'd be worse if you saw me smiling. And by all means, give it a go!

I can help by Scartore at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 07:13
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In the incredibly unlikely occurrence that we meet irl, I'm a photographer (actually I'm an incredibly overqualified amateur with a degree and everything). I can fix that. Looks like it was taken witha webcam.

I must admit, the by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 07:37
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I must admit, the photographic excellence demonstrated in your own pic does make that a tempting offer.

Changed my pic as requested. by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 09:03
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Changed my pic as requested. This one dates back to the bal masqué we held at our wedding recepton a few years back.

You dressed up like a pirate by ArchGenius at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 13:56
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You dressed up like a pirate for your wedding!

I must say that is pretty cool.

what we need by hamtastic at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 09:02
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Is more pirate hats.

I've often said that pirate hats aren't given nearly enough respect. I may have to find a pirate hat, but mine will need a much larger feather. It's all about the feather, really.

And um, article was good too!

Heh, AJ you look great with by Lord Erman at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 09:31
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Heh, AJ you look great with that hat! That pic of yours made me think of an old Amiga game I used to play; The Monkey Island! But instead of the good guy Guybrush Threepwood, you look more like the evil character called LeChuck!

And yes, great article as always even though I have to say that I would make a few changes for the Mill deck. Kathari is weak. Many players play Snakeform, Terminate (no regen.), Unmake etc. which will be enough to deal with it. Why not add white for Wall of Denial and Kitchen Finks (lifegain is always a good way to stay alive against aggro)? I would also replace Thought Hemorrhage with Blightning. Thought Hemorrhage is an investment that requires 4 mana and that means most of the time a whole turn for just 4 cards out of their deck at maximum. Not a very good investment. You may move it to the sideboard though.

I would also not play Circu who will most probably get killed the second you play him, and instead add more removal (Unmake? Lightning Helix? Or how about Culling Sun? It kills allmost all the good creatures in the format).

Just some thoughts... Mr. LeChuck!


Circu and the Kathari dying by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 10:03
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Circu and the Kathari dying to removal is fine, you can rip their removal of choice out of their deck with Thought Hemorrhage in response to ensure the next one sticks. TH isn't just about milling by 4 cards, but also about gaining information, the removal they have to hand and the potential removal in deck. In that regard it is unique in the format, and well worth the investment if you choose the right card to remove.

mana base by Anonymous (not verified) at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 09:36
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Is it possible to build Kaleidoscope decks with a cheaper mana base? For example the mill deck is <$45 with glimpse taking up almost half of that cost alone, but the mana base for the deck is a whopping $125.

It _is_ possible, yes, by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 09:56
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It _is_ possible, yes, especially on two-color builds, but the expensive lands really do make a difference in terms of deck consistency. It's one of the main reasons they cost so damned much. If I could afford Reflecting pools, they'd be an automatic 4-of as well. In one of my earlier articles I posted a caveat on lands, essentially feel free to use what you have.

For a budget 2-color Kaleidoscope build, I recommend Terramorphic Expanse, the relevant Ravnica block karoo, and the relevant Alara triland or Invasion/Coldsnap dual, with the balance in basics. Budget 3, 4- or 5- color builds take a fair bit more work.

Imo you could easily go UBr by Anonymous (not verified) at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 17:15
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Imo you could easily go UBr with the milling deck, and replace the Glimpse w/ X2 Blightning. I find
Mirrodin's Core are as good as vivid lands.

The trouble with Mirrodin's by AJ_Impy at Wed, 07/01/2009 - 17:18
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The trouble with Mirrodin's Core is you effectively get one colored mana out of it every other turn. That's not much use if you're curving out a color intensive 2-3-4.

I do like grixis charm over by SentiNell (not verified) at Thu, 07/02/2009 - 04:12
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I do like grixis charm over agony warp most of the time because it's ability to kill a tougher creature or just bounce any permanent.